11 Ways to Improve Your Interpersonal Communication Skills
How important are interpersonal communication skills today?
Quick answer: very important.
The world needs more people who are attuned with others. Furthermore, people with good communication skills tend to achieve success in all areas of their lives.
For example, many employers base their decision to hire someone on his or her ability to focus on conversations and willingness to collaborate with others for a common goal.
How do you know if you already possess these skills? And how do you develop them to become a more effective communicator?
The good news is that these skills can be learned and improved upon.
In this article, we feature 11 ideas for how to improve your interpersonal communication skills. We hope that you’ll be inspired to apply these suggestions in your life to help you achieve success.
What Are Interpersonal Communication Skills?
To start, let’s define what we mean by interpersonal communication skills.
These skills are what a person utilizes to effectively communicate, interact, and collaborate with other individuals or groups in a face-to-face setting. They are also known as “people skills.”
There are two types of communication skills.
Actively listening to someone is when you give your complete attention to what he or she is saying rather than merely focusing on their words. It involves listening with all of your senses, and allowing the speaker to see that you are listening by showing interest through both verbal and non-verbal messages.
This may include maintaining eye contact, nodding, or agreeing and encouraging them to continue talking. By receiving this feedback, the speaker will typically feel more at ease and be able to communicate more easily and honestly.
In her 2003 graduate thesis, Faye Doell revealed that people who aim to understand what’s being said beyond the words being spoken are shown to have better relationships with other people.
In communication, body language involves the use of your tone of your voice and your gestures, gaze, and different postures to convey your intended idea to the person you’re communicating with.
You have undoubtedly heard the phrase "actions speak louder than words." This is why there is often so much miscommunication in text message conversations. Without being able to see a person's physical gestures or hear their tone of voice, a listener is left to decipher the meaning behind words or phrases that could be taken a number of ways.
You need communication skills in all relationships, whether they’re professional or personal. The ability to interact well is important in:
And as we said, these skills can be learned and improved upon.
Let’s learn how.
1. Put your phone away.
Smartphones have changed the way people engage and interact with each other. With the increase in smartphone usage, there has been a decrease in eye contact, attention spans, human interaction, and personal relationships.
Put your phone away before the beginning of any meeting or conversation. This signals to others that you are giving them your full, undivided attention, and that you respect them and their time. If your phone vibrates, let it go. Remain focused on what the other person is saying.
If you are talking to someone about something that is important to you and they keep glancing at their phone (or worse, start using their phone), you probably think they have something more important going on, or that they aren't even paying attention to you. Be considerate of the people you are with and give them your time and attention.
2. Maintain eye contact.
Yes, it can be difficult to truly look someone in the eyes, but it is an essential part of having meaningful conversations. Maintaining eye contact makes the person you’re speaking with feel validated and understood.
This non-verbal cue also lets them know that you are paying attention to what they are saying. If you are looking at the floor or out the window for an extended period of time, it suggests that you are bored or aren't listening.
By holding appropriate eye contact, you will also avoid becoming distracted by the things that are going on around you. What's more, holding their gaze during your conversation will make them feel like they can trust you.
However, it is okay to look away every once in a while, as staring intently at someone you’re speaking to without a break in eye contact may make that person feel uncomfortable.
3. Let the person speak uninterrupted.
In most instances, do not to interrupt others while they are talking. It’s your time to be quiet. Focus on what the person is saying, and try to truly understand the message they’re trying to convey.
Interrupting someone while they are talking not only demonstrates a lack of listening skills, it also suggests to the other person that you don’t value what they're saying.
Additionally, don't jump in to try to finish someone's sentence. You may be aiming to show them that you can relate to what they are saying or that you understand where they are headed before they finish speaking, but you’re actually indicating to them that what they are saying isn’t worth listening to, and that you may even know more about the subject than they do.
4. Avoid making presumptions and assumptions.
People have a tendency to make assumptions when they are missing a piece of information. Instead of asking questions when we don’t know something, we jump to conclusions. However, presumptions and assumptions derail communication—and making them is an easy way of being labeled as an ineffective communicator.
When you make presumptions and assumptions, you are speaking for someone by projecting your own experience onto them. Unfortunately, assumptions can be so deeply implanted in your mind that you don’t even realize you’re making them.
The best thing you can do to stop making assumptions is to ask more questions and engage in active listening by paraphrasing what they are saying. When you're talking to someone, ask questions like, "This is what I'm hearing you say—is that correct?"
Also, ask any factual questions that haven't been addressed. Once you get the information that you need, you will stop making up your own. This will lead to fewer misunderstandings and better relationships.
5. Be truthful.
Always be honest in your interactions with others. This strengthens your relationships and establishes your integrity. Even telling a small lie can put you at risk of being labeled a liar, which could damage your reputation and reduce the tendency for others to trust you.
Furthermore, telling one lie may cause the need to tell a subsequent lie, which could lead to even greater negative consequences. Remember, you can't predict the outcome of telling a lie, even if it is small.
And if the outcome turns out to be much worse than you anticipated, your sense of responsibility and guilt could lead to more anguish than you imagine.
6. Be aware of your gestures and posture.
Interpersonal communication isn't just about what is said, it also involves how it is said, and the non-verbal messages that are communicated through one's gestures and body language.
Communication takes place any time two or more people are in the same area and are aware of each other's presence, no matter how unintentional or subtle the interaction is. Without speaking, an observer may still form an impression of another person by their gestures and posture. Even if no communication is intended, people give and receive messages through their non-verbal behaviors.
Nonverbal cues make up half of our personal or business interactions. Avoid using gestures and postures that signal disinterest. Rather, when you're communicating with others, you want to display open body language, such as:
Having closed body language, keeping your hands on your hips, or fidgeting should be avoided, because you may be perceived as disinterested, defensive, or even untrustworthy.
7. Be empathetic.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can widen your perspective about things. Without empathy, misunderstandings happen quite often. Everyone experiences their feelings for a reason, and even if you don't think you would react the same way to a situation, it's still important to acknowledge other people's emotions.
Being empathetic demonstrates to other people that you care and are willing to express compassion. Also, putting forth the effort to understand how other people feel will help you engage with other people's thoughts and ideas in a way that makes sense to both of you because you will have a deeper understanding of that person. This understanding will also help you respond appropriately to a situation and lead you to take part in more helping behaviors.
To show empathy, you want to try to accurately reflect the speaker's feelings. Identify any key emotions that they describe and paraphrase back to them what you heard them say. Also, ask clarifying questions and focus all of your attention on the other person's feelings.
8. Develop a positive disposition.
People are more likely to respond and gravitate towards their optimistic co-workers. Try to look for the news digest in every situation, even if the company is in a bad position. Doing so will make the workplace more pleasant for everyone.
People who have positive mental attitudes are often viewed as non-judgmental, welcoming, and accepting. Others are easily inspired and influenced by people who show a positive disposition. Being positive can also help you meet other positive people, and there are unlimited benefits to that.
To develop a positive disposition, make sure to remind yourself that things can always change and improve. Consider some of the turning points in your life that have inspired personal growth, and remember these opportunities can happen at any time.
Also, make sure that you are giving your body enough rest to ensure your physical health. You are much more likely to be mentally healthy if you are physically healthy.
Finally, if a situation that seems negative arises, seek out viewpoints from people who are different from you to recognize all aspects of the issue.
9. Read extensively.
Reading can expand your horizon. It broadens your exposure to things that happen around the world, turning you into a better communicator. Everything you read fills your mental library with new information, and you never know when that knowledge will come in handy.
The more you know, the better equipped you will be to interact with different types of people. One way to do this is by subscribing to a service that emails you a daily dose of news digests.
Reading will also help you become more articulate and well-spoken, which will also improve your communication skills. Maintaining an awareness of global news, scientific breakthroughs, and literature will help expand your vocabulary and give you the confidence to speak to people of all professional levels. Finally, reading will improve your writing skills, which is another important factor in overall communication with other people.
10. Express gratitude and appreciation.
Some people feel awkward in expressing their appreciation and gratitude in the workplace. However, this act helps foster a positive work environment, and people will recognize your part in bringing about this new culture.
In one study, researchers divided a group of fundraisers into two groups. One group called people to solicit donations as they always had, while the second group listened to a pep talk from the director of annual giving before making their calls, expressing her gratitude for their efforts. Throughout the next week, employees who heard the message of gratitude made 50% more phone calls to raise money than those who did not.
Gratitude may improve work attitudes and productivity because the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls dopamine) is heavily impacted by feelings of gratitude.
Furthermore, these brain boosts can significantly affect the workplace environment and employees' work/life balance. Expressing gratitude can reduce stress and improve a person’s sleep habits, metabolism, and overall wellness. This can directly impact work results and employees' interpersonal communication skills.
Lastly, expressing appreciation and gratitude towards co-workers creates more pro-social interaction. By implementing gratitude into your professional life, you will help spread your positive attitude to others, whether that is by helping someone with a project or stopping to recognize those who have gone the extra mile.
11. Be sincere.
People who are sincere forge a bond of trust between them and the people they interact with. Sincerity is a hallmark of strength in communication and interaction with others, but it ultimately begins with yourself.
Being able to recognize your own thoughts and feelings can allow you to become a more genuine person, which can then help you be more sincere when you're dealing with others.
To do some self-reflection, think about your strengths and weaknesses, and be aware of them when you are interacting with other people. Also, take a mental inventory of your values. When you live in line with your values, you are more likely to live a genuine and sincere life.
When you are talking to someone, using active listening skills, empathy, and sincere body language can help you come across as a genuine and trustworthy person.
Take the time to understand someone else's point of view and allow them to have the opportunity to speak uninterrupted while you absorb what they are saying. Using all of the tips laid out above can help increase your sincerity.
Well, there you have it: 11 ways to improve your interpersonal communication skills.
Do you have a favorite among the tips featured above? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.
If you are looking for other ways to reach greater heights in your work, you might want to check out this post on good workplace habits to build a successful career.
We hope that these suggestions can help you build meaningful relationships with others and reach success.